Saturday, 31 July 2010

Stop the Serengeti Highway

The Serengeti is one of the permier wildlife spots in the world, home to magnificent migrations of wildebeeste, zebras and other iconic African wildlife species.

This could all end though, as there are plans to build a highway right through the centre of the Serengeti.

Please read Paula Kahumba's article on Mongabay.

There is a petition against the Highway that you can sign on here.

The Frankfurt Zoological Society has proposed an alternative route for the Highway that would preserve the Serengeti and would actually be more convenient for more of the people who want to travel round the park. You can read about the alternative route and some of the issues around the Highway in this article here.

Friday, 30 July 2010

The Land & the Sea

Last night I was at the launch of Alastair Cook's photography exhibition The Land and the Sea at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall, in Edinburgh. The exhibition is made up of stunning black and white landscape and seascape photos, mostly of the Caithness and Lothians areas of Scotland and the Northumberland coast in England.

As part of the launch, there was a showing of Alastair's hypnotic film MALIN III with a soundtrack composed by Alastair and cellist Luca Nasciuti, from which the film evolved. Luca performed the soundtrack live at the launch.

There were also showings of three of Alastair's filmpoems with live readings:

Emily Melting a film of a poem by Gerard Rudolf, the poem was read at the launch by Alastair

La Plage a film of a poem by Jane McKie

Adrift a film of a poem from my chapbook Unthinkable Skies

The Land and the Sea - Photographs of the Eastern Seaboard by Alastair Cook
Monday - Saturday, 10am - 5pm. Entrance free.
30 July - 14 August, Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Dalmeny Street, Edinburgh

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

This is an amazing, heartbreakingly beautiful novel.

Somewhere in the far past or the far future, Billie and Spike are leaving their world to explore a new planet, but will their people learn from their mistakes? The first signs indicate that they probably won't as the new planet is bombed to get rid of the giant lizards that live there so that it can be safe for the new settlers.

Action then moves to Easter Island where Billy has been abandoned to his fate, but will Spikkers be able to guide him through this strange barren world or to explain why the natives are chopping down the last tree?

Two more worlds and perhaps in the far past or the far future, Billie and Spike find themselves in the Dead Forest, listening to strange broadcasts from an unknown source.

Winterson is a brilliant writer and here melds environmental concerns with philosphical thoughts about reincarnation and meditations on what it is to be human. This is definitely her best book.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Big Butterfly Count

If you're in the UK, now is the time to get outside and look out for butterflies! You have until 1 August to spend 15 minutes in an area where butterflies can be found and to report which species you see to the Big Butterfly Count, run by Butterfly Conservation. You can do the survey as often as you like between now and 1 August.

You can find out more on the Big Butterfly Count website, which also includes identification guides and all you need to record your sightings.

My butterfly sightings today included 2 red admirals, 5 small tortoiseshells, one comma and annoyingly one butterfly of another species that flew too quickly for me to identify it!

Which butterflies have you seen today?

Sunday, 25 July 2010


I took this photo last week on Corstorphine Hill, using Crafty Green Boyfriend's camera as mine has broken. I love the patterns inside the foxglove flower.

Friday, 23 July 2010

San people

As some of you may recall, I recently took an evening class in Human Ecology and Environmental History. One of the things that most struck me about this was the lifestyle of the San (Bushmen) people in southern Africa. Our tutor described the San as being the original leisure society.

Traditionally the San people lived very much in tune with their environment and had a very relaxed and healthy work - life balance. The men spent what time they needed to hunt for animals and would rest between hunting trips, the women spent what time they needed to forage for herbs. The rest of their time was spent socially.

I'm not qualified to give a full assessment of the San lifestyle and we were only given an introduction in our course, but I do think that here could be a model of a much more environmentally aware lifestyle that has been marginalised. You can read more about the San and why their traditional lifestyles have more or less disappeared by following the links below:

Bushmen on Survival International Site
San on Working Group for Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa
San Bushmen on Tribes Travel
Bushmen on Wikipedia

Rethabile has written poetry about the San on his blog Poefrika. You can read some of them by following the links below:

The San of the Sand
The San's Promise

Thursday, 22 July 2010

park haiku

heavy rain -
the scent of lime trees
in the park.

The lime tree here is the European lime (Tilia Europoea) - you can find out more about it here.

Park for Theme Thursday - thanks Dianne for letting me know about this meme!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Organic Fortnight

It's only six weeks to the Soil Association's Organic Fortnight (3-17 September). This year's theme is Choosing Organic Everyday and we want to encourage as many people as possible to view organic products as an everyday choice for everyone.

You can find resources for Organic Fortnight on the Soil Association website:

Get Involved in Organic Fortnight.
Five Reasons to Go Organic

Soil Association Scotland plans to be actively promoting Organic Fortnight on Twitter. You can follow us at:

I will be blogging about organic issues during the fortnight. It would be great if you could join me! If you would like to do this, please leave a message in the comments section. Then I can make a list of everyone who blogs about Organic Fortnight. This helps to publicise your blog as well as developing a critical mass of people blogging on organic issues during the Fortnight.

Also if you know of any organic events happening in Scotland during Organic Fortnight, please let me know so that we can help to publicise them to a wider audience.

Thanks to the following bloggers who are hoping to blog about Organic Fortnight:

Elizabeth at Luchair
Caroline at Coastcard
Gabrielle Bryden
Chatters at Nature's Cat

Monday, 19 July 2010

Monday Bunny - Mocca the Musical Bunny

Mocca is the resident bunny and mascot for Belvedere Mountain Express. She is a large and friendly French lop who lets me play with her and talk to her before I record my poems. Mocca isn't allowed in the recording studio itself, all those wires, but waits patiently outside. I'm impressed how agile a bunny she is for one so large, she enjoys leaping onto the sofa where she has a special blanket that she digs at and chews.

I had hoped to take some photos of Mocca when I visited, but my camera broke so here's a link to Howard's gallery of Mocca photos on Flickr.

I have been recording a number of poems recently with musical accompaniment that Howard specially composed for the launch of my poetry chapbook Unthinkable Skies. We're hoping to make an EP featuring musical settings of some of the poetry from the chapbook. Three poems have been set to music specially composed and two have been set to pre-existing tracks. You can listen to the latter two on the Belvedere Mountain Express Myspace Page (scroll down a bit in the musical box to hear them).

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Rabbit Omnibus by John Updike

Rabbit Angstrom is Updike's vision of everyman, an ordinary man, living an ordinary life with an ordinary family in an ordinary neighbourhood, making the mistakes we all make and not really learning from them. This book is made up of three novels which follow Rabbit's life, concentrating in turn on the years 1959, 1969 and 1979.

Rabbit Run, the first book in the trilogy, is very well written but I found it boring and too focussed on the purely domestic. Rabbit Redux and Rabbit is Rich are both much more satisfying. In these novels, Updike mixes the very personal domestic scene very effectively with the politics and issues of the day. This puts Rabbit's life in context and gives a historical context to the series.

Rabbit is Rich is excellent on the burgeoning mainstream environmental awareness of the late 1970s:

'.......he helped that high-school teacher who was building his own home, with the solar panels and the cellar full of rocks that stored heat'

' why doesn't he go into something like that? That's where the future is, not selling cars. Cars have had it. The party's over. It's going to be all public transport twenty years from now. Ten years from now even.'

So what happened? Why has it has taken us until 2010 to start to get this back? And yes I know the availability of oil has a lot to do with it, but there must be more?

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Corstorphine Hill

We had a lovely walk round Corstorphine Hill today, one of our favourite spots in Edinburgh. As always at this time of the year the hillsides were pink with rosebay willow herbs, that were buzzing with bees. There were three possibly four species of bumble bees and there were some honey bees too. (We're not experts but we think the bumble bees were: common carder, white tailed bumblebee, red tailed bumblebee and possibly another species we can't identify but it had a distinctly stripy bottom). Bumblebee Conservation Trust has a helpful guide to bumble bee identification on their website. Crafty Green Boyfriend took some wonderful photos of bees and other insects but is saving them for competitions, so I can't share them here! The other insects we saw included a couple of species of hoverflies (Microscopy UK has a helpful page about hoverflies, including an identification guide here). One of the species we saw was probably Portevinia maculata, I'm not sure about the other. We also saw lots of red soldier beetles that like to sit on plants of the umbellifer family (hogweeds and wild parsleys).
Corstophine Hill is a place of mixed habitats with areas of open grassland, woodland and bare rock so it's perhaps appropriate that today was a day of mixed weather, from bright sunshine to heavy rain and back again.

Friday, 16 July 2010

International Mail

I got two international parcels today. One was a copy of the book 1001 Pearls of Wisdom by David Ross, which I won in a prize draw that Michelle held over on The Raspberry Rabbits. The book was beautifully wrapped, it almost seemed a shame to unwrap it. (Sadly I can't share a photo of it as my camera has broken again.) The parcel also included some very delicious raspberry filled dark chocolate. So thank you very much for that Michelle!

The other was a collection of postcards from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and a framed haiga singed by their astronaut Naoko Yamazaki as a prize in Naoko's haiku competition. You can read the prize winning haiku at:

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Larkin with Toads

photo Denis Low/Larkin25, used with permission

Larkin with Toads is a 10-week, mass participation public art event taking place in Hull, England starting Saturday 17 July. It is a wonderfully imaginative way to celebrate the work of Philip Larkin, the most famous poet to come out of Hull.

Giant toad sculptures have been designed and painted by artists, community groups and local schools. They form a trail around Hull and its environs to form the largest public art installation ever held in Hull. The toad in the photo above is the Hull Fair Toad designed by Pinkyvision.

Philip Larkin was an animal and countryside lover, with many of his poems touching on these themes, finding beauty in uncelebrated parts of the British countryside, and expressing concern about threats to nature and the landscape. His poems ‘Toads’ and ‘Toads Revisited’ take a darkly comic look at the way in which work and how the daily pressures of life can constrain creativity.

Larkin with Toads is being delivered in partnership with Hull based arts organisations Artlink and Creative Partnerships (Hull College Group). The master design is by Chris Wilkinson of Wild in Art.

The Toads will eventually be auctioned off to benefit charitable funds that support causes close to the heart of Larkin and this project - environmental, animal welfare and artistic projects.

You can find out more and see the full range of toad designs on the Larkin25 website.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


a brisk wind -
the silver undersides
of leaves

previously published in Blithe Spirit, the journal of British Haiku Society

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


I've just made myself a special notebook to record all my swift sightings, along with haiku and other poems I write about them. Made from reclaimed waste office card and paper of course.
As many readers of this blog know, the swift is my favourite bird. It arrives in the UK in June and has left by the end of August. It spends almost all its life on the wing, only landing to build its nest and lay its eggs. The skies outside our flat are full of swifts at this time of the year, they are wonderfully acrobatic. There are at least ten of them, though there could be more of them altogether. But how long will this last? Swifts are in trouble in the UK.

You can help them by fitting a swift nest box. Swift Conservation can help you with fitting and maintaining a nestbox, you can find their local experts here.

The RSPB is looking for records of swifts, you can find out how you can help them here.

Concern for Swifts Scotland aims to have swift nest site conservation incorproated into building specifications and to support the inclusion of the swift in Local Biodiversity Action Plans. You can find out more about Concern for Swifts on their website.

You can also read my previous post on ths issue here.

Monday, 12 July 2010

A load of Rubbish!

Today I made my weekly walk along the Water of Leith. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of bees buzzing around in the flowers, I got a really good view of a dipper preening by the water, and a couple of bullfinches, saw and listened to some mystery birds that looked like willow warblers but sounded like whitethroats and was excited to get not one but three really good views of a peregrine falcon as it hunted over the river.

So why the title of this post? Well, in the area that I learned today is referred to as the Secret Meadow, a beautiful expanse of grass, bee-filled comfrey flowers, apple trees and rabbits, I found a huge stack of empty beer cans with the remains of a bonfire and some bottles of suncream. Ironically whoever had created all this waste had thoughtfully piled most of it all into a large cardboard box, but really such disregard for the environment is very saddening. The mess will be cleared up tomorrow by someone with a wheelbarrow, but that's volunteer time that could be better spent doing something more creative.

At tonight's volunteer meeting too, the issue of rubbish came up all too often as one that needs constant attention. The situation isn't really helped by the fact that there are not many bins along most stretches of the river and those that there are are not very large, nor do they seem to be emptied too often. But is it too much to ask that people carry their rubbish home with them?

On the topic of rubbish, I have a haiku over on Haiku News today, matched with two relevant news articles. You can find it here.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Black Flood

Black Flood is an online journal of poetic responses to the Gulf Oil Spill. The idea is to publish poetry about the disaster in a timely manner (if you submit your poem to an average journal it will be months before your poem sees the light of day and we need immediate responses, in poetry as much as in clean up measures).

I'm delighted that one of my poems Slick has been recently included on Black Flood (currently the second poem on the main page).

The site also includes poetry from regular visitors to this blog including Kat Mortensen and Angie Werren.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

On the Edge of the World

We discovered this exhibition at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh almost by accident today!

The exhibition contains items from the British Council Collection and the Botanic Gardens archives and includes a wonderful selection of pieces that illuminate our relationship with nature. Anya Gallacio's large preserved bouquet of dying gerbera flowers is a beautiful and time sensitive reflection on decay in nature, in the tradition of Andy Goldsworthy, while Michael Landy offers delicate etchings of ephemeral plants found in nooks and crannies in the city and Dalziell and Scullion have taken portrait styoe photos of the trunks of a number of species of pine tree.

It's an exhibition well worth seeing and it's on for another week so if you're in Edinburgh pop in to see it!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Antony Gormley reflects on the Water of Leith

Six cast iron figures, moulded by the sculptor Antony Gormley have been placed near and along the Water of Leith. This one is near the Gallery of Modern Art (there's also another in the grounds of the art gallery, another four along the river and one at Leith Docks). I really like the way it's been positioned, it doesn't seem at all intrusive. I hope the wildlife agrees!

They have caused a bit of a stir and some of them have been dressed in t-shirts to cover their modesty!

I recently discovered another Edinburgh based blogger who likes to walk along the Water of Leith. You can see Debbie's wonderful photos at her blog dfgphotography.

for Weekend Reflections

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Selected Poems from Osip Mandelstam

I admit I picked up this book in a second hand shop with no expectations other than I should read some Mandelstam. I ended up really loving his writing. Osip Mandelstam was born in 1891 and is considered to be one of the great Russian poets of the era. He died in 1938 on his way to a Siberian labour camp.

Mandelstam's poetry is lyrical and thoughtful and in this edition beautifully translated by Clarence Brown and W S Merwin (the new USA poetry Laureate). Most of the poems in this selection are not titled but are given numbers.

There is a very high level of political engagement in Mandelstam's poetry and a strong feeling for nature. Some of his poems draw a picture of a Nature pushed to the margins and almost seem prophetic, for example, 116 talks about the plight of the bees:

For us, all that's left is kisses
tattered as the little bees
that die when they leave the hive.


But lay to your heart my rough gift,
this unlovely dry necklace of dead bees
that once made a sun out of honey.

Osip Mandelstam - Selected Poems translated by Clarence Brown and W S Merwin and published by Penguin

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Birds and Butterflies

I've blogged about the fields near my office before here, here, here and here. I walk round the fields and up the hill every workday lunchtime. The area is really a lovely haven for wildlife. At this time of year there are skylarks singing (I've counted at least four singing males and today I was able to watch two of them as they sang, quite unusual, because usually a singing skylark is somewhere seemingly up in the clouds). There are also plenty of swallows and house martins flying round the offices and over the fields, swifts too, flying higher up in the skies. I've heard and occasionally seen grasshopper warblers singing their song that sounds very like a grasshopper. Over the past couple of days a yellowhammer has started to perch on a barn roof, to glow yellow in the sun as he sings 'little bit o' bread and no cheeeeese'. Skylarks, yellowhammers and grasshopper warblers in particular are birds that are struggling these days and so its wonderful to see them seemingly thriving just outside Edinburgh.

There are butterflies too, today I was surrounded by ringlet butterflies, I've also seen several small heath butterflies and a few small tortoiseshells. Plus there are the horses, the sheep, the goats and the geese that live on the small farms. It really is a lovely place for a lunchtime walk!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

rabbit haiku

by the roadkill -
young rabbit.

a scene from a road in the Scottish Highlands.

I'm delighted that Blithe Spirit, the Journal of the British Haiku Society has just accepted six of my haiku for their next issue! This is one they rejected!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Storm Damage

Yesterday afternoon there was wild rain and whistling winds that continued even after the rain stopped. I met a friend for coffee in the afternoon and we walked through Princes Street Gardens, needing to fight our way against the wind.

Today I walked along the Water of Leith as I do every Monday and was shocked by the amount of storm damage. Loads of small branches had been blown from the trees and a fair number of larger branches had been ripped down. The path was almost impassable at one point.

I reported all this to the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, who will sort out clearing the paths of the larger branches.

I had intended to do a post today about a particular species of tree that has been important in the history of the Water of Leith, but as my camera batteries ran out of power before I could take a photo of the tree, that post will need to wait until next week!

If you're interested in finding out more about the Water of Leith, its wildlife and its industrial history there are still places on this course I'm teaching for the University of Edinburgh this summer.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Bees Knees

Look at the knees on this bee! I took this photo a while ago and first posted it in this post. I'm reposting it now as James of Coyote Mercury had commented on my recent bee haiku that he didn't realise bees really had knees. Actually they're not knees as such, but pollen sacs, where the bees collect pollen to take it back to the hive.
Annette at Dragon House of Yuen shared an inspiring post about bees including some lovely crafts inspired by bees. You can read it here.
Bees are having a hard time just now. You can find out more about their plight and how to help them at Bumblebee Conservation Trust and The Co-operative's Plan Bee.